Don’t write off 3-D printing as an overhyped technology just yet. Here are three applications of 3-D printing that could actually reshape medical device manufacturing.
Chris Newmarker and Brian Buntz
“The future is already here—it's just not very evenly distributed,” wrote influential science fiction author William Gibson.
His words describe the current state of 3-D printing—while it is becoming to be an ever more common tool for prototyping, it’s real potential hasn’t been tapped yet by the medical device industry. But the groundwork has been laid for 3-D printing’s big break.
Consider for instance a new technology called Continuous Liquid Interface Production (CLIP) allows complex objects to emerge out of a pool of resin as though they were the T-1000 emerging from liquid metal in Terminator 2. (The movie actually inspired the technology’s creators.) Or how about University of Louisville professor Stuart Williams’ boasts that it will be possible within our lifetimes to 3-D print complex organs. And already, the use of 3-D printing to make injection molds is allowing the technology to be used for some degree of production rather than mere prototyping.
Rob Richards, business development manager for Orchid Design (Shelton, CT) ticks off a number of advantages that 3-D printing brings to medtech: customization and more sophisticated designs that could overcome drawbacks associated with the present death of 3-D printing medtech materials. (Orchid Design is part of Holt, MI–based orthopedic contract manufacturer Orchid.)
The DMLS machines that Ortho uses can be precise to within 0.0015 in., while molding or extrusion often has tolerances within 0.005 in., according to Richards. That means 3-D printing is already winning out when it comes to precision.
“We’re already more accurate than standard manufacturing tolerances. … Speed is getting better. The cost is getting lower,” Richards says.
“It’s only going to get faster and cheaper.” (Find out six reasons from Richards about why 3-D printing will take over medtech.)
|Refresh your medical device industry knowledge at BIOMEDevice Boston, May 6–7, 2015.|
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